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What is Situational Leadership?

What are the four styles of Situational Leadership?​

What are the qualities of a Situational Leader?

Advantages of Situational Leadership

Disadvantages of Situational Leadership




In the ever-evolving landscape of leadership theories, situational leadership stands out as a dynamic and adaptive approach to leading teams. The very concept of Situational Leadership is rooted in the idea that the effectiveness of leadership is dependent upon the context and readiness of followers. Situational Leadership has come to the forefront for its practical and dynamic nature. Through this blog, we will uncover details about its core principles, the four leadership styles, and the essential qualities required to build and embody this versatile leadership approach. To provide further clarity, we’ve also included a section addressing frequently asked questions about situational leadership. By the end, we’ll not only be able to understand what Situational Leadership is but also how one can nurture it within and refine it to navigate the intricate tapestry of leadership dynamics.

What is Situational Leadership?

The theory of situational leadership was devised by Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard (late 1960s). The very essence of this approach emphasizes that effective leadership is dependent upon the situational leadership context. It highlights the importance of leaders adjusting their style based on the seriousness of their followers. For this, the leaders are equipped with the skill to assess the team members in a way that helps the leaders guide them better.

Any effective leader alters his situational leadership style based on the current work environment he’s dealing with. The style of situational leadership does not directly reflect the skill of the leader but it’s more of a reflection of the ability of the leaders to adjust himself or herself to the specific requirement of a team or organization.

A situational leadership style, though complex in the beginning, can prove to be the foundation for a successful and agile organization. When the leader is willing to make an effort to assess his team members in order to come up with an acceptable and suitable situational leadership style, even the team is more readily willing to be supportive. As both the leaders and the teams are codependent, any organization is bound to be successful when both function amicably.

As per Blanchard and Hersey, situational leaders implement one of the below-mentioned leadership behavioral styles depending on one or the other situation:

  • Telling: The situational leadership style is most often used when dealing with a novice team. The leaders often provide detailed instructions with clear communication and expect a simple and repetitive result.


  • Selling: Leaders use a situational leadership style when the employees are unmotivated to perform a job.


  • Participating: Situational leadership style is most often used in a scenario when a team is skilled at a task but lack the willingness to perform it.


  • Delegating: When a team is not only efficient but also motivated, delegating leadership style is used. In this case, the team requires little to no guidance from the leader.

What are the four styles of Situational Leadership?

Situational leadership does not have a common language in the sense that with every scenario, the needs of the team change, and so does situational leadership style. Leaders adopt specific styles to meet the specific needs of the team.

Here are four styles of Situational Leadership:

  1. Directing (S1 – High Task Focus, Low Relationship Focus): The situational leadership style is adapted in a way that provides specific guidance and supervision of tasks. It is suitable for those who are beginners.

  2. Coaching (S2 – High Task Focus, High Relationship Focus): In this, even though direction is provided, leaders rely on encouragement from team members. It is for those who do not have a lot of experience but also need some guidance.

  3. Supporting (S3 – High Relationship Focus, Low Task Focus): Leaders give support as well as encouragement but also give considerable autonomy, which promotes self-reliance. This is only for cases when there is a lack of confidence.

  4. Delegating (S4 – Low Task Focus, Low Relationship Focus): In this, the leaders give guidance but it’s almost negligible and the team members are also urged to participate in independent decision making. For team members who are confident as well as competent, this is highly suitable.

What are the qualities of a Situational Leader?

When a situational leader becomes a part of the team, the first approach that he takes is to evaluate the team. When a situational leader adjusts his/her leadership style as per the needs of the team by inculcating adaptability and flexibility, an effective leadership style surfaces. A situational leaders has unique qualities that are of immense help in navigating through the intricate realities of the changes that the team encounters. It is dependent on the readiness level that the team showcases. The qualities of a situational leader play a crucial role in helping the team deal with unique situations that surface. Let us get a clearer picture of the characteristics that define a situational leader.

Enlisted are some of the characteristics that a situational leader showcases in a workplace:

  • Direction: In order to be successful, some teams or organizations need a lot of direction. A situational leaders recognizes that pattern of need in his team and provides the needed direction and supervision.

  • Flexibility: A situational leader is constantly making changes to his leadership style to suit the requirements of the team. Owing to this, situational leadership style demands flexibility.

  • Encourage participation: Situational leaders encourage their team members to participate in essential decision making and foster self reliance.

  • Delegation: One of the important task expected of situational leaders is the ability to delegate tasks to those team members who are capable of carrying out work independently.

  • Regular coaching: A successful leader is one who implements efficient situational leadership style to coach team members in order to promote their growth.

  • Honesty: A successful situational leadership demands honesty. A leader is expected to be honest about the prevailing situation and adapt his leadership style in a way that benefits the team.

Advantages of Situational Leadership

Situational leadership is a unique model that addresses the unique needs of the team. It is not just centered around the leaders but the entire team as well. The idea that one size fits all highlights the importance of adapting leadership styles to different situations. Its advantages become evident in its capacity to improve team performance, navigate intricate and complex situations, promote employee engagement, and foster leadership development. When we unveil the advantages of situational leadership, it helps us participate in an organizational culture that thrives on positivity and development.

  1. Improved Team Performance: Aligning situational leadership style with the needs of the team leads to enhanced team performance. The tailored approach provides the needed level of guidance and support to the team members, which helps them elevate their performance.


  2. Enhanced Communication: Owing to the emphasis on effective communication, a leader who practices situational leadership style learns to communicate clearly and in a way that matches the development level of their team members.


  3. Swift Problem Resolution: Once leaders discern the readiness level of their team members, they use the most suitable style to resolved problems in an effective manner.


  4. Increased Employee Engagement: Tailoring situational leadership style to employees consolidates engagement. Team members are inclined to feel more valued and recognized when their leaders understand them, and this leads to more commitment.


  5. Situational Awareness: With situational leadership style comes heightened situational awareness. This skill promotes a holistic understanding of team dynamics, which then helps both the team members and the leader.


  6. Effective Change Management: During a phase of change, situational leadership style becomes especially important. It is during this period that leaders are able to navigate the team smoothly through transition by providing direction, support and autonomy.


  7. Encourages Leadership Development: Situational leadership isn’t just limited to being a style; it’s also a developmental model. Leaders who follow this approach have a greater tendency to improve their own leadership skills, leading to their professional development.

Disadvantages of Situational Leadership

There is no denying the benefits of situational leadership, but it doesn’t come without complex challenges. Coming to terms with the disadvantages of this model is essential for leaders who want to glide through the complexities effortlessly. There is a risk of subjectivity in terms of assessments with regard to the implementation of subjective assessments. Situational Leadership needs deliberation to ensure that the disadvantages do not surface while harnessing the benefits. When we dive into the disadvantages, it brings to light the critical areas where leaders need to pay attention to infuse success with this leadership.

  1. Complex Implementation: Understanding the situational leadership model can be challenging due to its context-dependent nature. Leaders need to thoroughly understand the model to determine the readiness level of the team members.


  2. Subjectivity in Assessment: Judging the maturity level of team members can prove to be a subjective experience, leading to possible misjudgments.
  3. Time-Consuming: The process of constantly assessing team members and then adapting the leadership style accordingly is lengthy, time consuming exercise. Leaders end up devoting a significant amount of their time evaluating and eventually get distracted from other responsibilities.
  4. Dependency on Leader’s Judgment: The success of situational leadership styles is highly dependent on the judgment of the leaders. In a case where leaders fail to come up with the right judgment of the team members, situational leadership can prove to be a failure.
  5. Resistance to Change: Team members who encounter frequent changes in leadership style often show resistance to change. The root of this resistance lies in a lack of understanding when facing the ever-evolving nature of situational leadership.
  6. Potential for Overlooking Systemic Issues: Solely focusing on the readiness level of individuals may often result in neglecting the wider systemic issues. Situational leadership often fails to cater to the changes on cultural as well as structural fronts that have a long-term impact on team dynamics.
  7. Dependency on Leader’s Competence: With situational leadership, there is often an underlying assumption that leaders have the required competence to execute the style they find befitting. However, in cases where the leaders do not have the skills, the effectiveness of the model becomes redundant.
  8. Risk of Overlooking Team Input: When leaders only focus on the model and neglect the importance of input from team members, the effectiveness of the model becomes nonexistent. Leaders become too concerned with changing their styles on the grounds of assessments, and this leads to rigidity, which impacts decision-making.
  9. Potential for Confusion: If there are too many changes in leadership style, the team members are inclined to become unsure or confused regarding the approach of the leader. It becomes essential for the leader to be clear in addressing all forms of confusion related to communication.


Among the numerous leadership theories, situational leadership style takes center stage in helping leaders tread on the ever-evolving landscape of team dynamics. It is demonstrated that with effective leadership comes the underlying idea that it will be followed by an inclination to embrace the readiness of the followers. This understanding introduces a dynamism level that is inherent in the present rapidly changing environments. Situational leadership is not just about leaders; it’s also about the team. When the leaders are not aware of the pragmatic approach that comes with adopting a specific situational leadership style to cater to the team’s specific requirements, there is often a huge gap between the leader and the team. This leads to miscommunication, and it often instigates an indifference among the team members. However, a leader who has been trained in a situational leadership program gets equipped with the capacity to assess the team and navigate smoothly through any unforeseen circumstances that arise. By adopting an amicable outlook, the leader, through an effective leadership style, inspires respect in the team as well.

The benefits of a situational leadership style are evident when one notices improved team performance, better communication, quick problem resolution, heightened situational awareness, and many more. But there’s no denying the fact that every model is bound to face challenges on some front or another.

When we explore the complexity that arises in the implementation of the problem, the subjectivity of the assessment, the dependency on the judgment of the leader, etc., it becomes obvious that these aspects need thoughtful deliberation. Situational leadership is an effective tool when used with self-awareness and an honest commitment to deciphering the specific and evolving needs of the team. Situational leadership style equips the leaders to finely balance adaptability with stability and change with continuity.


A clear example of Situational Leadership style is a leader using a 'Telling' style with an amateur team. The leader gives detailed instructions along with the needed guidance at every step. In contrast, the same leader adopts a 'delegating' style when dealing with an experienced team. In this case, minimal guidance is provided by the leader, and the teams are encouraged to take charge.

The skills of Situational Leadership are improved communication, holistic situational awareness, capacity to adapt, flexible leadership style, encouragement to participate, and honest feedback about the ongoing situation.

Situational Leadership is important as it puts emphasis on the idea that there's no tailor-made leadership style. It equips leaders to design their approach while keeping in mind the specific needs of teams. This leads to improvements in performance, better communication, quick problem-solving, growth in engagement, and efficient change management.

The key elements of Situational Leadership are discerning the readiness level of the team, adopting a suitable leadership style based on assessment, and altering the leadership behaviors when needed. This leads to promoting an environment of learning and growth.

The defining characteristics of a situational leader are direction, the ability to be flexible, encouragement to participate, delegation, frequent coaching, and honesty regarding the prevailing situation. Despite the constant change in the team, a situational leader showcases the skill to change his leadership style to fit the changing needs of the team.

When it comes to Situational Leadership, the best leadership style is highly dependent on the readiness level of the team. There is no perfect or best leadership style, as it's highly subjective. The success and effectiveness of leadership are dependent on the context and the developmental stage.

The four styles of Situational Leadership are:
Directing (S1): High Task Focus, Low Relationship Focus.
Coaching (S2): High Task Focus, High Relationship Focus.
Supporting (S3): High Relationship Focus, Low Task Focus.
Delegating (S4): Low Task Focus, Low Relationship Focus.